Feds agree to new deadline for Fairbanks air cleanup plan

  • By Dan Joling
  • Thursday, January 5, 2017 9:04pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to an August deadline on whether to accept or reject a state plan to clean up heavily polluted Fairbanks air.

The agreement settles the first of two lawsuits filed against the agency by a pair of advocacy groups, Citizens for Clean Air and the Sierra Club, aimed at forcing the EPA enforce deadlines for a state cleanup of fine particulate, a pollutant that can cause heart attacks, decreased lung function and premature death.

Pamela Miller, director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said in a statement she was pleased that the court will enforce the deadlines.

“We hope that this consent decree results soon in real action on the ground to address the public health crisis that the people of Fairbanks are suffering as a consequence of the polluted air,” she said.

An EPA decision on the state plan was due nearly a year ago on Feb. 18. Meeting the deadline was complicated by the complexity of the issue and a national lawsuit challenging how EPA regulated fine particulate, said Tim Hamlin, EPA Region 10 director of the office of air and waste.

The EPA has agreed to propose to accept or reject a state cleanup plan by Jan. 19. After a comment period, the EPA must take final action by Aug. 28.

Kenta Tsuda, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, who is representing the plaintiffs, said his clients believe the cleanup plan is flawed and should be revised. The state plan, for example, rejected a ban on the sale of green firewood, which when burned emits more particulate than seasoned wood.

Fine particulate is a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets that can be inhaled deep in the lungs.

In November 2009, the EPA designated the Fairbanks North Star Borough an area of “moderate” non-attainment. The agency was required to review progress after six years, and if problems lingered, consider reclassification of Fairbanks to a “serious” non-attainment area.

That reclassification review was due at the end of June, and when the EPA missed that deadline, the same two groups filed a second lawsuit. A reclassification as a “serious” non-attainment area would mean tougher provisions to clean up Fairbanks air.

Hamlin said the agency is moving toward reclassifying Fairbanks to a “serious” non-attainment area.

The air pollution around Fairbanks is brought on by extreme cold and geography. Hills surrounding Fairbanks create a bowl effect. In a meteorological phenomenon known as an inversion, cold air along the ground can be capped by a layer of warmer air, trapping emissions.

Wood- and coal-burning stoves, vehicles and coal-fired power plants emit particulate. Some Fairbanks residents burn wood as a cheaper alternative to expensive oil.

The sources contribute to fine particulate levels that at times spike to the highest levels in the nation and regularly exceed federal limits.

More in News

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

Most Read